Waipuna Farms 2005 Limited

Sheep farmers redefining success

  • Polsons_Wanganui-CP_web

    Liz and Donald Polson view success from their hill country 'office'.

New Zealand’s sheep are being pushed to the hills and sheep farmers like Liz and Donald Polson have the difficult task of running a successful farming business in an increasingly challenging commercial climate.

With competing interest from dairy farming and grape and pine tree production, sheep are being forced to make way for these more profitable operations that flourish on flatter land.

“It has been a bit of battle these last few decades – if you were wanting a business that was successful, it wouldn’t be sheep farming,” says Donald Polson of Waipuna Farms 2005 Limited, the third generation farming business he now runs with his wife, Liz.

“However that’s the direction things have gone and as a result we’ve had to be adaptable in our approach to business in order to continue moving forward.”

Success to the Polsons now is building a business that is as profitable as possible, and one that can continue to run when they eventually retire.

The couple operates three farms in total, with a combined land area of 2,820 hectares. Waipuna, the largest of the three farms is the Polson’s home block and set on 1700 hectares, it specialises in their genetic breeding programme. Their second farm, Te Tui, is used for straight breeding and finishing while Awarua at Raetihi, purchased in 2007, is a joint venture operation with an Auckland-based partner that focuses on hogget lambing and heifer calving.

Donald says they’re very lucky to have an excellent team led by three trusted managers who run the day-to-day operations on each farm, while he and Liz focus their energies on the business side of things.

A key factor in their success has been taking advantage of the three farms’ incredibly diverse terrains and utilising each based on what it can offer their stock. “Having three farms in different environments has helped us with risk management, with each having different attributes that suit what we’ve established on each,” says Donald.

In recent years, this approach has also provided them with the chance to help ensure the longevity of commercial sheep farming in New Zealand.

With less and less flat land for sheep farmers to work with, the number of ewes nationally has been cut in half (from its peak), and yet the same weight of lamb is being exported. “We saw the pressure being put on sheep farming to improve lambing percentages and weights and saw an opportunity,” says Donald.

Waipuna Farms formed a relationship with Rissington Breedline at its inception in 2001. This firm is now Focus Genetics, a New Zealand based company that runs breeding programmes around the world to produce genetically superior sheep, cattle and deer, and whose biggest shareholder is now Landcorp – the largest sheep owner in the world.

Donald says that the future of sheep farming is in easy care, hardy ewes that wean a lot of lambs under difficult conditions in hill country terrain. “Our rams are bred from Elite Highlander and Primera breed ewes, which we run in the hard Waipuna hills for most of the year and we now sell rams that will adapt to any environment. This is the future of our success.”

Assisting the Polsons in structuring their business operation towards maximum profitability is Moore Stephens Markhams Wanganui Director, Jeff Whitlock, who Liz says, “came to us highly recommended. Jeff understands our business and doesn’t find our complicated affairs complicated at all. He keeps an eye on things electronically and identifies concerns before they become issues,” says Liz.

“He’s told us there are no dumb questions and always comes back promptly with sound advice. There is trust on both sides. Jeff and his team always understand and support what needs to be done to ensure the future of our business.”

Published Autumn 2014.

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